Remembering the gift of being introduced to kayaking six years ago by a total stranger

Over Memorial Day weekend, Abby and I went kayaking on the Kiski River, at the invitation of Steve, the guy we first met six years ago. There’s a story I’d like to share about what happened by chance six years ago.

First meeting Steve at his “soup hike” in 2008

Abby and I met Steve on a Pittsburgh hiking meetup hike on June 8, 2008 that he hosted in Apollo, PA, the second “soup hike” that has since then become a regular tradition. 13 people attended that soup hike. (The first instance of the soup hike, which we did not attend, was on April 5, 2008.)

The original theme of the soup hike was that since the first one was in cold weather, participants were invited to bring soup to share in Steve’s garage after the hike. It would turn out, of course, that people brought all kinds of food, not just “soup”, but the name has stuck!

The truth is that I had to drag Abby into attending our first soup hike. Although we had done a little bit of hiking after we first met dancing, she had been uninterested in the longer hikes (over five miles) that I liked to do. (It turns out that she had a lot of knee and ankle and endurance problems at the time; we’ve found solutions in recent years, largely through the radical change in footwear to Vibram FiveFingers and also changes in diet.) I was very sad about this, because to be honest, I did not know how much longer I could date someone who was not going to be part of my weekend outdoors life (we had been together a year, but I was still spending much of my time hiking with my office mate John on weekends). It was a huge deal to me to encourage Abby to join me for hikes.

We both enjoyed the hike tremendously. It’s a beautiful hike.

When Abby saw Jackson Falls, she knew she wanted to come back again to swim!


After the hike, I was surprised to see some people taking kayaks out to the Kiski River. Steve was letting people use his kayaks!

At this point in my life, I had never voluntarily been in the water before. I’m terrible at swimming, had near-drowning experiences when young, and had never touched a kayak or canoe before. But Abby was all excited, and the view on the river look so nice.

So Steve said we could briefly get on the river, and each of us took a kayak and just paddled around in the river for a few minutes. I was so scared the first time, and disoriented, but after a while, decided I really enjoyed this!

In summary, it was an amazing day, during which we met this great guy Steve who led us on a great hike, provided space and food in his garage, and even let us play with his kayaks. I was profoundly moved by his generosity, and the sense of fun that everyone brought to the event. Steve put us on his mailing list for his regular paddling trips, and ever since then, Abby and I have tried to join him for a couple of paddling trips a year, as our schedules and weather conditions allow.

Some photos from the paddling trip we just came back from

The paddling trip we just did with Steve was a 9-miler on the Conemaugh River, from Blairsville. The water was rather low this day, but the weather was perfect: sunny, temperature in the 70s, not too high, and breezy, not so humid.

It turns out that until today, we had not paddled in two years, because of our life situations last year, so we were really excited to have this opportunity this year.

Cute doggie coming with us:

The group starting down the river while I hang back to take a photo:

Passing a rookery:

Lunch break on the water because the water levels were too low for us to get off on solid ground.

A panorama:

One of several bridges along the route:

Turning off to take out:

Panorama at take-out point:


It’s really complicated setting up these paddling trips, because not only does Steve personally hoist up and tie up several kayaks to tow himself, but also we try to consolidate people into as few vehicles as possible in order to set up an efficient shuttle between the take-out and put-in points. And after paddling, all the kayaks have to be put back on, and everyone transported back to their appropriate vehicles, and some people ending back up at Steve’s place while others just go back home. Basically, if you sign up for one of these trips, plan to spend the whole day outside.

For example, on this trip, which was especially involved because of how far everything was, and because it did not end at Steve’s place, we met up at 9:30 AM but didn’t leave till more like 10:30 AM. After arriving at the put-in location, we unloaded, Steve went with some others to drive to the take-out location, take one car back to the put-in, and then we finally got on the river at noon! We ended up getting off the river at 3:30 PM, but then had to get back to Steve’s place and help unload and clean up, and by the time we were done, it was 5:00 PM, time for a quick shower and then dinner.

Very time-consuming, but it’s good to invest the time to just relax and go with the flow all day and enjoy the scenery and camaraderie, rather than have anything else planned for later in the day!


Abby made and brought a tasty zucchini dish, and some smoked Gouda cheese, to share for after paddling, and Steve provided burgers to grill. Many of the participants were newcomers and didn’t realize they should bring food to contribute, but they know now. In any case, there was still leftover watermelon, chips, cookies, and beers from the previous day. People also brought in foccacia, cole slaw, and pasta salad.

I ate two leftover homemade cookies immediately!

Abby’s zucchini was popular:

Steve’s burger patties, just off his grill:


There have been occasions when we have stayed long enough to sit in front of the bonfire that Steve likes to make (we have camped overnight outside his place a couple of times), but usually we are really beat and head out to drive home before dark, so that’s what we did.


Six years ago I never went into water, but then thanks to meeting Steve, have had the opportunity to do kayaking a couple of times a year with Abby, expanding my experience of the natural world. It’s really a remarkable experience going down the river, powering yourself, facing the vastness of water and under the open sky. Also, it’s been inspiring to meet someone like Steve who is so generous and shares his knowledge and love of nature.

Have you been introduced to something new and beautiful in recent years, thanks to the kindness of someone you just met? If so, what are your thoughts on your fortune?

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